2014 Preview: Texas Rangers

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Between now and Opening Day, HardballTalk will take a look at each of baseball’s 30 teams, asking the key questions, the not-so-key questions, and generally breaking down their chances for the 2014 season. First up: The Texas Rangers.

The Big Question: Were the bold moves bold enough?

The past two offseasons seasons saw the division rival Angels make huge additions in Josh Hamilton and Albert Pujols. Those moves didn’t work and, indeed, those moves are cited as part of the reason the Angels have fizzled. Too much star power, not enough depth, they’ve said. It takes more than the big moves to make a contender. So why should the Rangers’ big offseason moves — trading for Prince Fielder and Shin-Soo Choo be any different?

Because they fit a heck of a lot better with the Rangers than those other guys fit with the Angels, that’s why. The Rangers needed on-base ability at the top of the lineup. They needed someone with pop from the left side who can take advantage of the short porch in right down in Arlington. Choo and Fielder supply that in spades. Indeed, Choo is one of baseball’s true on-base machines, and the fact that Jon Daniels and Ron Washington have committed to batting him leadoff is going to mean good things for the lineup. Getting Prince Fielder out of Detroit — and getting him in shape — will do wonders as well. It’ll be hard to find anyone the baseball punditry says will have a better bounceback year than Fielder.

Yes, the Rangers had to give up Ian Kinsler to snag Fielder, but havung Jurickson Profar move into a regular, everyday role at second base is a nice fallback option. If he plays to his potential, the Rangers could have another star on their hands. If he falters, at least his glove should be solid.

Unlike the Angels, the Rangers were not a team trying to patch over several holes with a couple of high-profile signings. They were a strong team who needed a push over the top after falling a couple games short for the AL West title the past two seasons. With Choo and Fielder they should get it.

What else is going on?

  • Injuries to the rotation are going to go a long way towards determining the Rangers’ fate.  Yu Darvish, Matt Harrison and Martin Perez make a nice 1-2-3, but Harrison’s early-spring back issues are worth watching and not having Derek Holland around for the first half of the season due to knee surgery is a big problem. If Harrison is OK and Holland can step in when he’s healthy, the rotation should be OK. If both of those guys are gimpy much of the year Ron Washington is going to lean heavily on Alexi Ogando, Nick Tepesch and Tommy Hanson, and all of those guys are question marks. There’s a lot of depth here, but there’s also a chance that Texas is sporting a rotation with way too many 4-5 guys as the season wears on.
  • The closer spot could be an all-or-nothing proposition. With Joe Nathan gone we have Neftali Feliz and Joakim Soria vying for ninth inning duties. Both are not too far-removed from dominant pitching and even less far-removed from Tommy John surgery. If one bounces back to his old form, the Rangers have a closer. If both do, they have a two-headed monster in the late innings which could shorten games.
  • A.J. Pierzynski is in Boston, leaving catching duties to Geovany Soto, who has been a backup the past couple of seasons, and J.P. Arencibia, who was one of the worst offensive players in all of baseball last year. Each is capable of so much more than they’ve done recently. It’ll be interesting to see if either of them can regain lost form.
  • Ron Washington’s contract was just extended through 2015. Seems like a late and somewhat short vote of confidence compared to how these things usually go for guys with a couple of pennants under their belt. If the Rangers, after taking on Fielder and signing Choo, underachieve this season, it wouldn’t be at all shocking to see Wash on the hot seat.

Prediction: That seat shouldn’t be too hot, though. The lineup is stacked. If the rotation doesn’t implode, this is one of the best teams in the AL. First place, AL West.

Jeffrey Springs, Rays agree to $31 million, 4-year contract

Bob DeChiara-USA TODAY Sports
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ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. – Left-hander Jeffrey Springs became the first of the 33 players who exchanged proposed arbitration salaries with their teams to reach a deal, agreeing Wednesday to a $31 million, four-year contract with the Tampa Bay Rays that could be worth $65.75 million over five seasons.

The 30-year old was among seven Rays who swapped arbitration figures with the team on Jan. 13. He began last season in the bullpen, transitioned to the starting rotation in May and finished 9-5 with a 2.46 ERA in 33 appearances, including 25 starts. He is 14-6 with a 2.70 ERA in 76 outings – 51 of them in relief – since he was acquired from Boston in February 2021.

Springs gets $4 million this year, $5.25 million in 2024 and $10.5 million in each of the following two seasons. Tampa Bay has a $15 million option for 2027 with a $750,000 buyout.

The 2025 and 2026 salaries can escalate by up to $3.75 million each based on innings in 2023-24 combined: $1.5 million for 300, $1 million for 325, $750,000 for 350 and $500,000 for 375. The `25 and ’26 salaries also can escalate based on finish in Cy Young Award voting in `23 and ’24: $2 million for winning, $1.5 million for finishing second through fifth in the voting and $250,000 for finishing sixth through 10th.

Tampa Bay’s option price could escalate based on Cy Young voting in 2025 and 2026: by $2.5 million for winning, $2 million for finishing second through fifth and $500,000 for sixth through 10th.

Springs would get $45.25 million if the option is exercised, $52.75 million with the option and meeting all innings targets and the maximum if he meetings the innings targets and wins two Cy Youngs.

Springs’ ERA last season was the second lowest in franchise history for a pitcher working a minimum of 100 innings. Former Rays ace Blake Snell compiled 1.89 ERA on the way to winning the 2018 AL Cy Young.

In addition to finishing sixth in the AL in ERA, Springs allowed three runs or fewer in 22 of 25 starts and two runs or fewer 17 times. He joined Tampa Bay’s rotation on May 9, gradually increasing his workload over his next six appearances. Springs was 6-3 with a 2.40 ERA in 14 starts after the All-Star break.

Arbitration hearings start next week and the Rays remain with the most players scheduled to appear before three-person panels.

Springs had asked for a raise from $947,500 to $3.55 million and had been offered $2.7 million. Tampa remains scheduled for hearings with right-handers Jason Adam, Pete Fairbanks and Ryan Thompson, left-hander Colin Poche, third baseman Yandy Diaz and outfielder Harold Ramirez.

Tampa Bay also agreed minor league contacts with catcher Gavin Collins and right-hander Jaime Schultz, who will report to major league spring training.

Infielder Austin Shenton and pitchers Anthony Molina and Joe LaSorsa also were invited to big league spring training.